Anyone with an inkling of what hobbyist DIY PC building is all about knows that artful cable management is no easy feat and forcibly wrangling with unruly cables can be as challenging as breaking in a wild filly.
Gone are the days of haphazardly hurling it all in there and hoping for the best: cable management isn’t so much an aesthetic choice as a fount of benefits and not only for aesthetic purposes. A fastidious task if there ever was one but one well worth the time and effort involved.
Here’s the simple guide to taming these wild clusters of cables and connectors into an uncluttered, crisp looking PC worthy of pride and one you’ll want to put on display for all to marvel at in awe.
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Beyond pimping out your PC to look like a rendition of a futuristic computing station pulled straight from the most obnoxious 80s sci-fi movie, good cable management eases air flow. Tangled cables darting unchecked from one corner of the case to the other restricts air flow, which results in higher overall temperatures. As we all know heat is the enemy of a well functioning PC.
By streamlining cables and managing them so as not to act as an impediment to the natural movement of air inside the PC, you allow the fans to do their job and keep the hardware’s temperature in check.
Easy Upgrading and Maintenance
Upgrading is greatly simplified when there isn’t a hodgepodge of cables to wade through to reach a PCI-E port or install a glistening new SSD. Adding a new component in a computer with little to no cable management is like wading through a dense jungle with a rusty machete. Attentive cable management charts a clear path to the ports and bays drastically simplifying and speeding up the upgrade and maintenance of a machine.
Not all cases are created equal. Some manufacturers are conscious of the inherent struggles of good cable management and design their cases accordingly with a generous helping of cable holes and mounts leading to the concealing space behind the motherboard tray dotted throughout the case.
If you’re embarking on a fresh build, then save yourself some toil further down the road and buy a case fit for purpose. Keep an eye on the size of the gap between the back panel and motherboard tray: if you’ve got a busy consortium of components, the more space, the better.
Similarly, the overall size of the case has an impact on how successful cable management is likely to be. A roomier case is always easier to manage, but conversely requires longer cables, so plan as best you can.
The overwhelming majority of cables and connectors find their source at the PSU making it a central consideration in cable management. With this in mind, we can’t recommend modular PSUs enough, despite the marginal price bump. They grant the ability to pick and choose which cables go to and fro from the PSU instead of the mess of cables fixed to non-modular counter-parts. Unnecessary, unused cables need to be managed too and going modular negates the problem entirely.
Regardless of arrangements made by the case manufacturer, specific components are immovable once they’ve slotted into their predefined position, but others such as SSDs, HDD, and GPUs can be placed in different slots and positions that favor better cable management.
Look out for cable hole positions on the motherboard/case and position components in proximity to shorten the portion of a cable that isn’t routed behind the tray. Similarly, and if at all possible, position components so that their respective connectors aren’t forced through the same cable hole.
Stay clear of standard plastic zip ties for the sole reason that once fixed in place; they aren’t reusable making a mistake or experimental fancy a rather costly endeavor, not to mention the environmental considerations. Opt instead for elasticated ESD-compliant ties, twist-ties, sleeves, combs, and velcro ties.
Don’t be afraid to use ESD-compliant tape to secure unwieldy cables that won’t bend to your will with ties to the back of the motherboard tray. Buy colored tape that suits your PC case or, if you’ve settled on a particular color scheme, that works well with the other dominant colors. Cable management is about making a PC look prim and stylish; tape does wonders to round off a look.
Although keeping cables short is a prime tenet of good cable management, sometimes the routing options at hand, particularly when it comes to the position and availability of cable holes in the case and motherboard, mean extra length can be a boon rather than a negative. Cable extensions that clip onto the end of existing cables can add that extra bit of leeway to reach the perfect hole and bring the whole PC together.
Cable Management Best Practices and Strategies
Cable management is a bit like moving into a new home: no one finds joy in having to clean up the mess and rearrange the furniture left by previous inhabitants. Cable management is very much the same. Remove all the cables before you begin and switch the placement of components as described above.
The Motherboard Tray
The cable manager’s best friend is the motherboard tray, or to be precise the gap behind it where cables can be tucked out of sight. Tug cables through the cable holes in the tray and route them to their final destination, paying heed to leave as little cable as possible exposed in the front of the case.
Although the tray is great for hiding cables, the gap behind needs to be just as ordered, if not more. Don’t merely route everything through the back and call it a day: think of the most logical pathways for the cables through the back of the tray. Make use of cable cutouts and holds built into the case (passing a tie through to secure a bundle of cables for example), and try to run as much as possible around the contour of the case frame for a clean look.
Group smaller cables together using ties and combs to keep things clean cut. Do the same with the larger PSU cables using sleeves and velcro ties.
Give Every Cable The Attention It Deserves
From here it’s a case of experimenting to find the most logical route for all the cables. Give every cable the attention it deserves by finding the best path. You’ll be surprised by how easily the management comes together if you pay attention to detail rather than striving for a quick solution.
From here take a systematic approach to each piece of hardware starting with the oft pesky front panel and case cabling that connects to the motherboard, before moving on to dealing with the larger PSU cables to the CPU and motherboard, hard drives and SSD SATA cables, and finally expansion cards like the GPU.
Try to route every component to the nearest cable hole, running behind the tray then back out through a cable hole close to where it connects to a component, especially relevant for PSU cables. Use the full length of cables to limit bunching. Bunching or bundling is among the biggest pitfalls of cable management as it can be a nightmare to order and mold into an ordered fit.
Equally important: avoid covering fans, heatsinks, and coolers at all costs as this can restrict airflow.
Don’t commit to tape or ties until you are sure the cables are in the best arrangement possible. There’s nothing worse than securing all the cables only to figure out a better layout.
Cable Management Is An Art
To the dismay of those who struggle with cable management, there is no well-kept secret that only the initiated are privy to through occult initiatory steps. Cable management is an art; a process of trial and error where experimentation and patience lead to the best result. Like a painter who toils away over draft after draft of his current project, refining and bettering his work, cable management follows the simple formula of the more time you put into it, the better the outcome.
Patience is critical as is a degree of lateral thinking. The process invariably leads to removing and replacing hardware multiple times to find the best route for a set of cables; using a sparing amount of ESD tape to group connectors only to see that a cable tie works far better in a particular instance. It can often feel like you are taking two steps backward, to move one step forward. Rest assured this is part of the process, and the rewards far outweigh a couple of hours of frustration.